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Frontiers in Neurology




BACKGROUND: Digital neuropsychological tests reliably capture real-time, process-based behavior that traditional paper/pencil tests cannot detect, enabling earlier detection of neurodegenerative illness. We assessed relations between informant-based subtle and mild functional decline and process-based features extracted from the digital Trail Making Test-Part B (dTMT-B).

METHODS: A total of 321 community-dwelling participants (56.0% female) were assessed with the Functional Activities Questionnaire (FAQ) and the dTMT-B. Three FAQ groups were constructed: FAQ = 0 (unimpaired); FAQ = 1-4 (subtle impairment); FAQ = 5-8 (mild impairment).

Results: Compared to the FAQ-unimpaired group, other groups required longer pauses inside target circles (p < 0.050) and produced more total pen strokes to complete the test (p < 0.016). FAQ-subtle participants required more time to complete the entire test (p < 0.002) and drew individual lines connecting successive target circles slower (p < 0.001) than FAQ-unimpaired participants. Lines connecting successive circle targets were less straight among FAQ-mild, compared to FAQ-unimpaired participants (p < 0.044). Using stepwise nominal regression (reference group = FAQ-unimpaired), pauses inside target circles classified other participants into their respective groups (p < 0.015, respectively). Factor analysis using six dTMT-B variables (oblique rotation) yielded a two-factor solution related to impaired motor/cognitive operations (48.96% variance explained) and faster more efficient motor/cognitive operations (28.88% variance explained).

CONCLUSION: Digital assessment technology elegantly quantifies occult, nuanced behavior not previously appreciated, operationally defines critical underlying neurocognitive constructs related to functional abilities, and yields selected process-based scores that outperform traditional paper/pencil test scores for participant classification. When brought to scale, the dTMT-B test could be a sensitive tool to detect subtle-to-mild functional deficits in emergent neurodegenerative illnesses.

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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Published Citation

Libon DJ, Swenson R, Tobyne S, et al. Dysexecutive difficulty and subtle everyday functional disabilities: the digital Trail Making Test. Frontiers in Neurology. 2024 Apr 3:15:1354647. eCollection 2024. doi: 10.3389/fneur.2024.1354647. PMID: 38633534. PMCID: PMC11021769.